The headaches remain, so too the pain in his neck. But Jamie Cudmore could change rugby for ever.
Now a coach at French side Provence, the former Canada second row, 40, spent 11 years at Clermont Auvergne between 2005 and 2016 and their alleged failure to protect him from serious injury will soon be resolved in court.
Their feud dates back to 2015, when the forward suffered a series of concussions in Clermont’s Champions Cup campaign.
Jamie Cudmore alleges that Clermont Auvergne failed to protect him from serious injury
The lock played for the French side between 2005 and 2016 and has taken them to court
Doctors are accused of repeatedly allowing him to play on, so exposing him to the potentially fatal ‘second impact syndrome’ — a state where the brain swells rapidly and sometimes catastrophically after it suffers a second concussion before symptoms from an earlier one have subsided.
He survived but has never fully recovered. For weeks Cudmore struggled to cope with bright light or loud noises. He still occasionally loses his train of thought and in the past year has had two anxiety attacks.
A recent RFU report revealed that nearly one in six surveyed players suffered at least one match concussion last season and the deaths of four young players in France over the past 10 months have reignited the debate over whether rugby has become too dangerous.
England wing Jonny May played on for three minutes in last month’s Six Nations match against Wales after a brutal clash. He later failed a head injury assessment (HIA).
Cudmore still lives in France with his wife Jennifer and Great Dane Jenga
But change could be afoot if Cudmore wins his case. In January, in a first in world rugby, a court-appointed neurologist in France ruled that Clermont were responsible for the harm Cudmore suffered after playing on with a concussion in the Champions Cup final against Toulon at Twickenham.
The club disputed the report but Cudmore is pressing on with legal proceedings, which could lead to criminal charges against doctors, owners and coaches at the club and set a game-changing precedent for the sport.
‘I have stood up for myself and other players who don’t need to go through this,’ he tells Sportsmail.
But the battle for justice has taken its toll. Provence recently announced he would be relieved of his duties at the end of the season. He was labelled a traitor by Clermont and has found public support hard to come by.
‘There are clearly powers that be here in France that don’t like the fact that I have spoken up, but at the end of the day it’s not a question of money or me being in the press, we need some proper changes to protect players properly here,’ he says.
Cudmore hopes to improve the level of education about head injuries in France
He laments a perceived old school culture that pressures players to go through the pain barrier
‘I’ve had other players who I’ve asked to come out and help me with my case, who were in the changing room when I vomited during the final. They wouldn’t give their statements. There is a big amount of fear in the culture around rugby. If you don’t talk about it and if you don’t find solutions it’s going to get swept under the rug and more people are going to die.’
But it is with a determination to prevent further tragedy that Cudmore is pressing on with his case, no matter the cost to his reputation. He believes the game must do better, with law change rather than money his aim.
Cudmore insists any compensation would go straight to the Rugby Safety Network, a foundation he set up to improve education around concussion. To ensure a ‘positive outcome’ from this war with a sport and a club he still loves, ‘real change’ must follow.
The 19st, 6ft 6in Canadian wants the current HIA protocol to be re-examined and two-man tackles scrapped but is also wary of the collateral damage his fight could cause.
Cudmore knows he could put rugby at risk of more claims, the like of which have cost the NFL $630million (£481m) in settlements with former players.
The Canadian has been met with a cold shoulder by some in France for his lawsuit
‘If this opens the door for every time a guy gets a concussion he starts charging either his club or the doctors or whatever, that would be a horrible outcome,’ Cudmore says.
‘The level of education around head injuries in France is appallingly low. So that for me is the biggest thing. If we can get a real wave of positive education, that’s great. But at the same time we have to be very careful we don’t open the doors to legal proceedings like you see in the States where every time anybody falls over they get taken to court.’
There is a clamour to find solutions, with a World Rugby seminar on injury prevention taking place in Paris this week. It comes as the sport in France is reeling from tragedy.
Since last May, Adrien Descrulhes (17), Louis Fajfrowski (21), Nicolas Chauvin (18) and Nathan Soyeux (23) have died following injuries playing rugby. The deaths were labelled an ‘unusual spike’ by World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper, who recently said: ‘Whether it be death on a field or catastrophic injuries, there’s been a marked decline over a number of years and we’ve had a lot of success managing concussion.’
But the tragedies came as no surprise to Cudmore. ‘When I first came out about the treatment of Clermont, I said it’s horrible to say but I think there are going to be deaths,’ he recalls.
Brett Gosper said the recent deaths in France from head injuries were an ‘unusual spike’
He accepts that strides are being made and that people are beginning to realise the dangers. But he laments a perceived old school culture that pressures players to go through the pain barrier.
‘The game has progressed so fast but the people who run it (in France) are 50-70 years old and they’re all still in the Dark Ages,’ he claims.
A spokesman for the Ligue Nationale de Rugby claimed that the Top 14 is an ‘example’ and that ‘French regulations on concussions are much more precise and demanding than in any other country’.
Nevertheless, Clermont’s former England full back Nick Abendanon has said he wouldn’t ‘push’ his son to play rugby and Cudmore shares his fears.
Whether it’s for his kids or someone else’s, his fight will go on.
MOUTHGUARD THAT COULD HELP TACKLE CONCUSSION
Rugby is turning to technology to help understand concussion.
For two seasons, Welsh side Ospreys have been trialling a mouthguard which measures the force of blows to the head. The technology is being developed by Swansea University and start-up Sports and Wellbeing Analytics (SWA).
A chip inside the mouthguard (below) gives medical teams real-time monitoring of all collisions and the dangers they could pose. The results are recorded on a pitchside laptop, allowing doctors to see the size of the collision in G-force and whether anyone may need to be taken off.
‘It is a traffic-light system,’ says Richard Lancaster of SWA. ‘So there’ll be an alert: this player has had an amber hit, it might be worth an HIA. Or a red hit, which is absolutely this player needs an HIA.’
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